Cricket

Blaze cling on for record-smashing victory

When Wellington Blaze captain Liz Perry trudged off Eden Park’s No. 2 ground and into the team’s changing room beneath the west stand, she thought two things.

The first was that she’d personally blown what should have been a routine victory, for a side in pursuit of a record fifth domestic women's T20 title.

The second was that, much as she hated the thought, she needed to head back out of the shed and be with her team to watch the final moments of the showdown with the Canterbury Magicians – as dire as it might well be.

“I was sitting in the changing room going ‘What have I done? I’ve just got out at the most crucial moment.' I actually thought I’d really, royally stuffed things to be fair. I was looking to get out of the ground as quickly as possible," Perry said. 

“I was looking at the game on the TV and I thought ‘How have we let this happen?'

“Then I thought ‘Right, I’ve got to be out there for these girls’.”

Perry emerged just in time to see team-mates Jess Kerr and Suzie McDonald scramble through for a mad-dash single from the final ball of the match, to claim a deserved, but almost-botched, victory.

Kerr was the hero at the end, slashing the penultimate ball of the match over backward point for a three which tied the scores and set up the winning single off the final ball.

“They had everyone up on the off-side so I thought that was the best option,” Kerr said. “I’m glad I got hold of it because there were a couple of dot balls there that were making me a bit nervous.”

For the final ball, Kerr’s role was simply to sprint to the strikers' end and hope for the best. With Magicians captain Frankie Mackay gathering McDonald’s shot with plenty of time to line up what would have been a game-tying shy at the stumps, luck was required in spades.

“It was definitely nerve-wracking but more exciting,” said Kerr of the moment. “We all believe in each other.

“I was too busy running to the other end so I had no idea where the ball went. I just saw Suzie jump up in the air so I knew that we’d done it. It was the best feeling ever.”

For Mackay, a throw that was “close enough for me to think it had a chance” delivered opposite emotions.

“That’s cricket isn’t it,” she said after clearing away a few tears. “You ride the highs and the lows of it. The game is the master and it can make you feel pretty small at times.”

It certainly tested Mackay on Sunday. Run out early in Canterbury’s innings when backing up too far, Mackay also dropped a catch at a crucial time.

With Sophie Devine - home from Australia's Big Bash League for the final - having just crushed three sixes in a single over, the game appeared well and truly over as the Blaze closed comfortably on the Magicians’ under-par total of 130.

Mackay - who had learned earlier in the week she'd be returning to the White Ferns fold for the first time in five years - promptly brought herself on to bowl. Her off-spin didn’t trouble Devine but her fielding did, with Mackay producing a sharp stop and throw to run out the White Ferns superstar.

Still, with opener Rebecca Burns well set and plenty of batting to come, the run chase should have been a formality.

Instead the wickets tumbled, with Amelia Kerr and Thamsyn Newton both run out, and Perry bowled playing across the line looking to hit into a gap on the leg side.

“Pressure does funny things to people,” Perry said. “Finals are a whole different ball game. Nine times out of ten we’d have backed ourselves [to win comfortably from there]. When you’ve got so much on the line you kind of think ‘God, we’ve got to get the job done’. You start to panic a bit.”

Perry laid the credit for Wellington’s dominance in the T20 format (four titles in seven seasons) at the feet of coach Christie van Dyk and the team’s secret weapon - “team manager and team mum”, former Silver Fern Irene van Dyk. 

“She and Christie are just the dream team,” Perry said. “Her influence on the team, money can’t buy. She is the nicest person in the world and she knows these situations like the back of her hand. To have her experienced head around the group certainly helps.

“Ever since they have come into the set-up, we have known how to play winning cricket and good cricket as well.”

Relief was the over-riding emotion for Perry as the Blaze sealed back-to-back titles for the first time

“My heart rate is still going. I’ve got the shakes. I’m just really proud. I’m a wee bit emotional, I think. Because I know how much it means to these girls," she said. "To have a game of cricket like that, I feel really sorry for Canterbury.”

The Magicians were left to perhaps rue a lack of aggressive intent after closing their innings at 130 with just three wickets down.

In an explosive start to the match, Kirsty Nation was dropped over the long-on boundary for six off the very first ball.

Mackay fell early to a superb piece of fielding, with Alex Evans firing a strong throw to what shouldn’t have been the danger end, where Blaze keeper Lucy Doolan whipped the bails off to catch Mackay centimetres short of her ground.

Devine claimed a wicket with her third ball, dismissing Nation with a simple return catch with the score on 23.

Kate Ebrahim and Erin Bermingham compiled a tidy 86-run stand for the third wicket, but, on a decent pitch with a fast outfield, the Magicians’ run rate appeared to be on the slow side.

Bermingham brought up her 50 in the 19th over, ending on 61 not out from 49 balls.

The Blaze lost Doolan early for one run, but that just brought Devine to the wicket.

After a measured start, she brought up the Blaze's 50 in the 10th over with a huge six over square leg from the bowling of Jacinta Savage. She then repeated the dose two balls later with another crunching strike over mid-wicket.

A third six in the over – again over mid-wicket as Savage dropped short – turned what had been a tight contest firmly in the Blaze’s favour.

After spilling a steepling catch at mid-wicket, Mackay brought herself on to bowl – with immediate effect.

Devine drove powerfully back to Mackay and backed up too far, allowing Mackay to fire the ball to wicket-keeper Laura Hughes for a slickly executed run out.

Opener Burns’ solid knock of 42 came to an end when she was stumped attempting to charge Gabby Sullivan. But the Blaze were still in total control.

Until all of a sudden they weren’t.

***

Mackay, the Canterbury Magicians captain, will return to the White Ferns for the T20 series against India, while Katie Gurrey and Rosemary Mair are poised to make their international debuts.

“Frankie, Katie and Rosemary can all be proud of how they have performed in their respective Burger King Super Smash campaigns,” head coach Haidee Tiffen said.

“We are rewarding players who are in form and we feel these three deserve a chance at the highest level.”

Mackay and Gurrey occupy the top two spots on the Super Smash run charts and have impressed the coaching staff with their performances in the competition.

“Katie is a big striker of the cricket ball; she’s an attacking batswomen and plays with a lot of courage,” Tiffen said.

“Frankie has clearly had a standout season for the Magicians and deserves her spot in the squad. We are excited to welcome her back into the fold and will be looking to use her talents with both bat and ball.”

Tiffen also pointed to the value of the Emerging Players Programme, in which the coaching group has been able to work with players such as Mair.

“Rosemary has been a consistent performer for the last couple of seasons and has worked hard on her game. This is a well-deserved opportunity for her to test herself at the highest level.”

Maddy Green, Lauren Down, Katie Perkins, Holly Huddleston and Anna Peterson miss out, as the selectors look to atone for the sub-par performance at the T20 World Cup in the Caribbean.

“We’ve had to draw a line in the sand after our performance at the T20 World Cup. We need to reward and give opportunities to players in form, while building depth and competition for places within the environment,” Tiffen said.

“By no means is the door closed, we know we have some serious tournaments coming up in 2020 and 2021 and the more players we have to pick from, the better position the White Ferns are in to have a real chance at these marque events.”

WHITE FERNS T20 squad

Amy Satterthwaite © (Canterbury)

Suzie Bates (Otago)

Bernadine Bezuidenhout (Northern Districts)

Sophie Devine (Wellington)

Katie Gurrey (Northern Districts)

Hayley Jensen (Canterbury)

Leigh Kasperek (Otago)

Amelia Kerr (Wellington)

Frankie MacKay (Canterbury)

Katey Martin (Otago)

Rosemary Mair (Central Districts)

Hannah Rowe (Central Districts)

Lea Tahuhu (Canterbury)

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